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Book Review: The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism by Trevor Aaronson

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The horrible events of September 11, 2001 left a mark on the American psyche that will never be forgotten. It was a tragedy that brought the nation together in grief, but the Bush administration’s response to it quickly divided us again. I still find it unbelievable that the Al-Qaeda attack was used as justification for W. to “get” Saddam Hussein. The invasion of Iraq may have been the most blatant example of the government using 9/11 as an excuse to lie to the public, but it is by no means the only one. In his new book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, author Trevor Aaronson details the agency’s woeful record on anti-terrorism since that fateful day.

Through a series of interviews with FBI informants, former and current agents, and other reliable sources, Aaronson has done his homework. It seems that the goal has not been to actually make the nation safer, but to appear to be making it safer. Good press trumps everything. What the author has discovered is a situation in which cases are invented, and people are routinely set up. Resources are squandered on chasing paper tigers, with the end result being that the nation remains dangerously vulnerable to attack.

To discover that our anti-terrorism professionals are more concerned with achieving quotas and getting good publicity, rather than making the U.S. safe is a little hard to swallow. Yet it is all right here, and the facts are hard to argue with.

I was outraged after reading this book, and in trying to make sense of it, I thought about the way things were in airports prior to 9/11. You may remember that before the attacks, airport security was pretty lax. You went through a metal detector, and your bags were checked. There was also a sign stating that everything a person said would be taken seriously. This was a way of letting the tipsy guy in line know that a “joke” such as “Oh yes, I have an AK-47 in my luggage” was not a good idea. Best to just keep your mouth shut.

It seams that in the world of anti-terrorism, the FBI has decided to pour their money into chasing the equivalent of the “tipsy guy.” In case after case, Aaronson presents us with pathetic creatures, who have been built up by the Bureau as the most dangerous threats the nation has ever faced. With their arrests (over 500), the agents have been able to claim multiple “victories” in the war on terror. Almost every one of these “terrorists“ have been manufactured in some way by the Bureau.

In the introduction, we meet unemployed Michael Curtis Reynolds, who is 47, and lives with his elderly mother. Like many of the so-called terrorists in the book, Reynolds is a man whose “grip on reality was tenuous at best.” Thanks to an online rant in which he fantasized about bombing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Reynolds came to the attention of the FBI. So far, so good. If a man is saying things like that, I think we are all grateful that the FBI investigated him.

This is where the problem arises though. If the FBI were as good as they claim to be, then surely they would have seen how pitiful a man Reynolds really was. The source of his frustration was not extreme politics, but the sad fact that he could barely even function in the world. He had no chance of being able to follow through on this, or any other “threat.” So, the FBI helped him out. The next day, a person claiming to be an Al-Qaeda operative offered Reynolds $40,000 to fund the attack. When he showed up at the designated spot to pick up the money, he was arrested by the FBI.

He was given a 30-year sentence. Did he get what he deserved? The intent may have been there, but it is highly unlikely that he ever would have accomplished anything on his own. If this were an isolated incident, we would not be discussing it. The problem is, the Reynolds case is not the exception to the rule, it appears to be the rule. In fact, many of the cases are far worse than this. The Bureau has given people big money to grow their operations, resulting in even bigger headlines when they are “busted.“ Without the FBI, most of these guys could barely tie their own shoes.

Until the publication of this book, all of the FBI’s anti-terrorism cases have been taken at face value. The impression has been of a very effective operation. With over 500 arrests, the Bureau looks good. This false sense of security has allowed the public to sleep better at night, I suppose. The problem is, guys like Reynolds were never a credible threat.

The situations that are described remind me of a cop at a speed trap. Does catching someone going 43 in a 40 mph zone really make the world a safer place? It gets the officer’s quota up, and that is about it. But what if there were a drunk on the other side of town, going 100 mph in a school zone at the same time? Call me crazy, but I think the drunk is who the officer should be focused on, not some poor sap in a speed trap.

It may not be a fair comparison, but we are talking about the anti-terrorism efforts of the United States of America. If the focus of the FBI’s efforts to combat terrorism is simply to set-up a pitiful guy like Reynolds, then we are in big trouble. The Bureau is wasting enormous amounts of money and manpower on phantoms, and being praised for it by a populace who has never been told the full story. The Terror Factory describes an outrageous situation, and my hope is that it will be read by people who could actually do something to address it.

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